Attention Bosom Buddies fans! In ABC’s new-era, new-economy take on the beloved Tom Hanks series and flicks like Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie, family man Lee Standish (Ben Koldyke, How I Met Your Mother) and ladies’ man Angel Ortiz (Amaury Nolasco, Prison Break) masquerade as women to end a year’s worth of unemployment and land lucrative jobs as pharmaceutical reps, becoming wiser men in the process.
Though a glut of early press breathlessly accused Work It, which premieres tonight at 8:30pm, of insensitivity to transgenders, Nolasco and Koldyke defend the series as nothing more harmful than their predecessors in pantyhose, including Hanks, Dustin Hoffman and Some Like It Hot hotties Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
“It’s a long history, man, and it’s a good one.” Koldyke says. ”I’m proud to be a part of it.”
“Here’s the thing,” Nolasco says. “We’re never going to please everybody — that’s something I’ve learned in this business. Someone is always going to get their feelings hurt. This is entertainment. It’s comedy. We’re not trying to send a political message. We’re not trying to send a racial message. The recession, the economy that we’re going through — this is an exaggeration. It’s a farce of how things are going on out there. We’re not trying to make fun of anybody. This is a half hour of comedy that lets people disconnect from their day.
“And these two characters, they learn,” Nolasco continues. “Ben’s character — he learns how to become a better father, he learns how to become a better husband by being in that environment of women. Same for me. You’ll see an episode where I don’t know how to sell anything, so I use my looks and my charm and all of sudden I realize that I’ve become a piece of meat. And that’s very uncomfortable.”
As was the wardrobe and womanly ways both gentlemen eventually learned to embrace.
“The panty-line thing shouldn’t be a big deal,” says Koldyke when pressed for the worst part of assuming the trappings of the fairer sex. “I think we should just all agree that panty lines are OK. Because the thong thing is … just uncomfortable. There is a line in one of the earlier scripts where my character says, ‘Everything was fine — except I felt like my underwear was sawing me in half.’ And that really is exactly what it feels like. (Oh, we know, Ben. We know.)
“But the thing that was the most uncomfortable even over time,” he adds, ”was the eyeliner on the inner part of the eye. But it’s the classic thing — once it’s done, my eyes did look better. So I was like, ‘This is the most awful, unfair thing! Women should never have to do this … oh, wait a minute, look at my eyes!’ And then I was ok with it.”
Nolasco credits his longtime girlfriend, Once Upon A Time‘s Jennifer Morrison, with helping him figure out what girlie gear suited him best — and unraveling a mystery common to many a relationship.
“I’ve always said women are the most beautiful thing God created,” Nolasco laughs. “But I don’t know how you guys put up with the waxing, the shaving, the eyebrow plucking, the makeup, the hair, the high heels. Now I understand why you guys are late all the time!”
Nolasco also admits he cribbed his character’s signature hair flip from costar Kate Reinders, who played Glinda in Broadway’s Wicked.
“When she told me she was in Wicked, I was like, ‘Agh! I loved Wicked! Who’d you play?!’ And she told me Glinda, and I was like ‘AH! I LOVED GLINDA!’ She had this thing called ‘Toss toss!’ — where she tosses her hair, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to steal that from you and I’m going to make it my own.’ So through the whole show, all I do is toss-toss! Working the hair! It’s all about the hair!”
To get in touch with his own feminine side, Koldyke looked to a more manly inspiration … plus one about as close to home as they come.
“I saw Dustin Hoffman getting interviewed about Tootsie,” Koldyke says, “because I hunted him down obsessively and all the stuff he said about doing that part. That one of all the ones I watched and researched was the one that always stuck with me. And he said when you start out doing this sort of thing, you make obvious choices of what you think women do. What he found over the course of doing the movie was that he was able to take his own natural movements and his own natural vocals and mannerisms and feminize them. That was unbelievably helpful to me because I was able to things I would naturally and make them more like … my mom.”
But ultimately, both Koldyke and Nolasco agree that the series is really about who Lee and Angel become on the inside, even as they grow more comfortable with their outward masquerade.
“The groundedness of it, the honesty of the story, that really informed my approach,” Koldyke says. “Because ultimately, this is a guy who is not playing around. This is an opportunity for him to make some money — I mean he hadn’t worked in a year. So if he had to dress like a women … well I’m going to go for it. And not in a silly way.
“I know that Andrew and Ted (Reich and Cohen, both longtime Friends executive producers), if they had a sort of overarching theme to this — and what appealed to the network — it was that these guys overtime earn the respect of women in general and certainly the women in their lives. And they learn a lot of things along the way. That was something [Reich and Cohen] were intent on accomplishing, and I think they did. There were certainly a lot of moments where my character was forced to confront situations with my daughter or my wife that, were I not going through what I was going through, I would not have been able to see things the way I did.”
Still, says Nolasco, it’s perfectly OK to give Work It a try just for the laughs.
“I dare anybody to just watch the pilot,” he says. “If you don’t laugh, if you don’t smile — I get it. Then it’s not for you. And if it’s not for you, change the channel and that’s fine. But I dare to you to not watch the pilot and laugh.”